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Forensics put to novel use



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NEW YORK -- They met at a morgue, but Michael Baden, a forensic pathologist, and Linda Kenney, a civil rights lawyer, note that it wasn't a date. That came later.

After nearly five years of marriage, Baden and Kenney have collaborated on a novel, Remains Silent (Knopf, $22.95), published today. It's the first in a planned series about a pathologist and lawyer who in a case of art dramatizing life combine their first date with an autopsy.

In fiction and fact, forensics -- the science used to collect evidence and solve crimes -- is hot.

Baden, former New York City chief medical examiner, remembers when Quincy, M.E. was TV's lone medical examiner. (Baden advised the show, which aired from 1976 to 1983.)

Now, CSI has two spinoffs on CBS, Baden advises Crossing Jordan on NBC, and the Fox network introduces Bones this fall.

Since 1994, Baden has hosted HBO's documentary series Autopsy, which began with cases he handled and now has started to investigate unsolved deaths.

Baden cites two new factors behind the growing interest in how bones and other body parts unlock secrets and solve crimes:

*The introduction of DNA tests to determine guilt or innocence, although in real life they're not used as often as in TV dramas.

*The reinstatement of the death penalty in many states, which raises the stakes in murder trials.

Baden and Kenney's novel deals with skeletons found near an abandoned mental hospital and a political cover-up cracked by the scholarly, disheveled pathologist and the zealous, fashion-obsessed lawyer.

The characters are younger, thinner and more dashing versions of their creators. Baden is 71; Kenney is 51.

Their luxury apartment above the Museum of Modern Art in midtown Manhattan resembles the one depicted in the novel, with eerie, eclectic displays of presidential pardons, dinosaur bones and Andy Warhol silk screenings of the electric chair at Sing Sing.

Kinney insists that Baden keep his human bones ("teaching specimens") in his office in Albany, where he's the part-time forensic pathologist for the New York State Police.

Early in the novel, the lawyer wonders, "How could a man spend his life routinely cutting up corpses?"

Baden, who says he has completed 20,000 autopsies, maintains that he's not morbid and that he found it harder as a young hospital resident to deal with patients who were sick and dying.

In autopsies, "their pain and suffering are over. And what we learn from a dead body can help the living."

Baden and Kenney, who have grown children from previous marriages, also plan a series of forensics books for kids, starting with Mycroft Solves a Mystery. It stars their pampered poodle, named for Sherlock Holmes' older brother. Mycroft also figures in Remains Silent.

"You have to be careful with kids -- not a lot of murder and mayhem," Kenney says. "But there's a dearth of kids' books on forensics.

"It's a great way to teach science."

The human body to him was magnificent, and its building blocks, its bones, never ceased to enthrall him. There was more beauty in the creation of man than there was in sublime music. He sometimes felt ... that the mute bones were eloquent, if only he could fully understand their language. He formed skeletons -- three men, and yes, a woman. What stories could they tell?

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© Copyright 2004 USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Co. Inc.

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